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Guide to the discovery of Scripture

Origen, c. 185-254

 
By what principle ought one to read and interpret the Scriptures?  It is a fact that a number of errors have had their origin in an inability to understand a sacred text in the right way.

For example, many Jews have not believed in our Savior, because they have been attached to the literal meaning of the prophecies made about him and have not sen them physically fulfilled.  They have not seen the prisoners set free, (Isa. 61:1) nor the city of God built in the way they imagined it, (Ezek. 48) nor the chariot cut off from Ephraim, nor the warhorse from Jerusalem, (Zech. 9:10) nor butter and honey being eaten and the good chosen without prior knowledge of evil or preference for it (Isa. 7:15).

So then the reason for so many mistaken ideas about God consists solely in the inability to interpret Scripture in a spiritual sense.  It has been taken in its literal sense only.

Those who receive the Word, even the most literal-minded, know that some truths revealed in the sacred Books are full of mysteries.  Wise and humble people recognize that they cannot explain them.  What do we say, for instance, about the prophecies?  They are packed full of obscure words.  And who has not been struck by the unspeakable mysteries contained in the revelation made to John?

The literal-minded person finds edification in the sacred Books.  He finds the bare bones, so to say of the Scriptures.  But the person who has made some progress attains to the soul of the Scriptures.  The one who is perfect, then, discovers the spiritual law.

(Translation by Thomas Spidlik, Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, MI - Spencer, MASS, 1994)

 

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